Your office treats schools differently depending on results, what’s
behind that? What positive outcomes have you seen from this approach?
Under our Managed Performance Empowerment Theory of Action – the first of two pillars that sustain our reform strategy — the district defines its relationship with each school on the basis of the school’s performance. High-performing and/or significantly improving schools are given considerable autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic operating constraints. Chronically low-performing schools that fail to improve are subject to district intervention, redesign, closure or replacement with higher-performing school models.
As a result, Hartford has the greatest gains of any Connecticut city on the Connecticut Mastery Test for the past two consecutive years and the district is looking forward to repeating that feat again at the end of the current school year. At the end of last year, for example, every grade level went up in reading for the first time. The cohort (four-year) graduation rate rose to 43 percent from a low of 29 percent two years earlier. And 13 schools raised their overall school achievement index by more than 3 percent.
Why all the different kinds of schools?
The second pillar of our reform strategy is to provide a system of high performing, distinctive schools of Choice through which to improve the quality of education and meet a broad and diverse range of student/parent interests and needs. The new theme-based academies and school models are also designed to expand student options for post-secondary education and career interests.
That is what we mean by a “portfolio” school district. On the elementary school level, for example, we offer a Montessori model, an International Baccalaureate model, an America’s Choice model, an Achievement First charter school program and a performing arts magnet school to name a few. At the high school level, we offer a year-round preparatory magnet school (Capital Prep), an Insurance and Finance Academy, a Journalism and Media Academy, Culinary Arts, Nursing, Law and Government, Engineering and Green Technology and Teaching.
Hartford is one of the poorest cities in the country, what challenges
does that add?
The biggest challenge is in changing educational culture from one of low expectations to one of high standards. Another challenge is to resist the popular tendency to slow down, change less and go slower in very difficult economic times. We must make tough budget choices and establish priorities that institutionalize our reform agenda and sustain the gains we’ve made in student achievement.
You haven’t blogged since September, what’s up with that?
We are doing our best to maintain the blog in light of workload increases brought on by budget and personnel reductions. We find that we can better communicate our messages through press releases and advisories, news letters and our education access television channel.